Shelter | Shelter http://www.dogster.com/shelter Shelter en-us Thu, 22 Jan 2015 04:00:00 -0800 Thu, 22 Jan 2015 04:00:00 -0800 http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/tech/rss Orion <![CDATA[Twilight Retirement Home in France Gives Senior Dogs a Home ]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/twilight-retirement-home-senior-dogs-francee Every year, thousands of healthy senior dogs are put down in France due to overcrowding in shelters. When Mike and Leeanne Whitley from Britain retired to the country for an easier life, they found that fact impossible to accept, and in the last 10 years they have adopted more than 100 senior dogs.

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Leeanne, a former Great Britain athlete, and Mike, an English and drama teacher, both suffered from ill health and believed that the tranquillity of the Dordogne countryside in southwest France, where they had bought a barn, would be perfect for them to rest and relax. They couldn't have been more wrong.

When the couple's beloved dog Kizzy died, Teg, their retriever, was clearly lonely without his companion. Leeanne and Mike decided to get another elderly dog and visited their local refuge.

What they found shocked them. France, like many other countries, has more stray dogs than it knows what to do with. Although some shelters make a great effort to rehome stray animals, older dogs fare less well. Says the couple, "It became evident, searching the pounds and refuges, that if you were an old dog, life was not always good, and your ending might be premature and without dignity."

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Time to relax for Mike and Leeanne, and a chance for all the dogs to take a turn to have a cuddle. (All photos courtesy of Leeanne and Mike Whitley)

From that first visit Mike and Leeanne adopted "a few" senior dogs, who would all have been put down otherwise. By the time they had adopted seven more dogs, it was clear to them both that they felt a calling.

It was the start of a completely different life from the one the couple had planned. They set up the Twilight Retirement Home for Dogs. "It's not a formal refuge," says Mike. "We're just mere volunteers with the time, space, and love to share our calm home with dogs." At any one time they have up to 35 senior dogs living in their home. Their lives revolve around the "sad and seemingly endless needs of these lovable best friends," or as Leeanne refers to them, "the puddings."

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For Twilight's older dogs, feeding time is a fairly sedate affair with lots of good behavior.

Leeanne confesses, "Our life is the dogs now. We have to make moments just to chat sometimes about life outside of Twilight -- did we send my mum a card lately, that kind of thing. We make ourselves pop out for lunch once a month if we can, often just to have a 'meeting' about how the dogs are, what we can improve on, etc." Leeanne says that while it may sound a bit sad and overwhelming, they are very happy and love it.

Their work has attracted plenty of admiration, and they now have several volunteers who help out with the grooming, bathing, and general care of the dogs, as well as administration and social media updates. Their local vet has played a key role, visiting regularly to save them constant journeys to his office. With so many seniors to care for, there is always a medical issue; sadly, sometimes dogs have to be euthanized when they become ill and are in pain.

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Mike makes dinner. There are 35 bowls to prepare at feeding time and more than 100 kilos of food a week.

Reading the daily updates on their Facebook page is both uplifting and heartbreaking. For example:

Sally's need to cross the Bridge was a little sooner than we had all hoped. A tummy tumor pressing on her nerves, the pain had arrived, so a big kiss and she is now I pray rested and at peace. Now we look to Bianka (fused joints), Douglas (fluid on the lung), and Sabre (those GS hips), who have a seven-day package of potions to hopefully help, but it is just a matter of time for all three. Gladys (dehydrated from the months of starving and likely organ failing) and Naomi (likely tumor in intestine) are also on the watch list, with Nana, Paddy, Gormless, and Quito all on new meds. A few last Christmases ahead, but we will celebrate in style with warmth and love.

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Fourteen-year-old Sabre with young Jacob. Sabre came to Twilight when his owner died of cancer. He is like a grandaddy to them all and has been with Mike and Leeanne for two and a half years.

It takes special people to be able to deal with the constant loss of beloved pets as Mike and Leeanne do. So many of the dogs who have come to them have little time left, sometimes just days. Leeanne talks about Woolfy, "a severe neglect case at death's door when he arrived."

"He was so weak," she says. "He lay in his bed, in his own mess. Justine, a Beagle, got into the bed with him to make him warm. We tried to clean him, feed him, let him feel the love and healing. If they come in this state, we try to help them regain their dignity before they pass over the Bridge." 

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Mike introduces a newbie to the group, which gathers round to give a welcome.

Leeanne says they were only couple of years into Twilight at the time, and still on a mighty learning curve. But Woolfy came around; despite the huge mouth tumor, growing so quickly, he felt the love of humans and canines alike.

"He stole our hearts," she says. "On his 19th day, he managed to walk around the garden, take in the sun. On his 21st day here, he died in my arms. We loved him so much. He regained the light in his eyes; he had no pain at the end."

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Mike and Leeanne take time every day to play with the dogs.

Some of the dogs come from homes where their owners have died. Some have been abandoned, abused, starved, and beaten. Leeanne and Mike work closely with refuges and animal charities in France, and they work hard to rehome the younger dogs who have plenty of life left in them.

They have no favorites and love every dog as if they had bought him up from a puppy. When the dogs pass over the Bridge, it is of course distressing, but what keeps the pair going is the knowledge that however hard this path is, the dogs in their care will have a better ending to their lives by spending time at the Twilight Home.

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Twilight raises extra funds by selling gifts and calendars. All of the money goes toward vet fees, food, and caring for the dogs.

Visit Twilight Home's website and Facebook page for updates about the dogs, details of how people can help, and advice for anyone wanting to take on an elderly dog. 

Read more on senior dogs:

Do you know of a rescue hero — dog, human, or group — we should profile on Dogster? Write us at dogsterheroes@dogster.com.

About the author: Janine Marsh is the editor of The Good Life France and a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers. When not writing, she is pandering to the whims of six cats, three dogs, and 38 chickens, ducks and geese.  

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Thu, 22 Jan 2015 04:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/twilight-retirement-home-senior-dogs-francee
<![CDATA[Wilson and His Canine Family Were Saved After He Was Shot in the Mouth]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/dog-shot-in-mouth-regina-humane-society-dog-rescue-adoption He was found on an deserted farm with a mouth full of bullet fragments, a dehydrated mate, and eight hungry puppies. Wilson the German Shepherd-Collie cross hasn't had an easy life, but since his rescue this dog’s luck is changing.
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"The whole family is a miracle," says Lisa Koch of the Regina Humane Society. "It was pretty rough out there for them, and now that they know human kindness and attention that's all they want."

One-year-old Wilson, his mate Winnie, and their litter were starved for both food and affection when they were discovered on an abandoned farm property near the tiny village of Lestock in Saskatchewan, Canada.

Winters in Saskatchewan can be brutally cold, and when community members spotted Wilson moving around on the vacant property, they knew they had to help him get to a warmer environment.

"Some well-meaning folks had seen the dog around the abandoned farm yard, and upon investigating they found the mother and the puppies in the basement of an abandoned building," explains Koch. "It took them a couple of days to get them all out."

Once Wilson, Winnie, and the pups had all been coaxed out of their hiding places, their rescuers drove for two hours to reach the Regina Humane Society in the provincial capital.

Although his injuries weren't easy to spot, staff at the shelter soon discovered that Wilson had been shot in the mouth and was in a lot of pain. They didn't know how long the dog had been living with bullet fragments in his mouth, but they knew they had to get them out immediately. Because the veterinarians on site could not perform the very specialized surgery Wilson needed, he had to be taken to the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatoon, about three hours north of Regina.

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The bullet fragments that were eventually removed from Wilson's mouth. (Photo courtesy of Regina Humane Society)

At first, the shelter wasn't sure how it was going to get Wilson to Saskatoon, but according to Koch, a volunteer showed up at the Regina Humane Society unexpectedly during Wilson's intake, looking to make a donation.

"That volunteer ended up offering to pay for the surgery as well as drive to Saskatoon and stay overnight in a hotel," Koch explains, adding that Wilson's case is fantastic example of collaboration in animal rescue. "I don't mean to sound sentimental, but it really was a whole host of lifesaving partners who came together to make this happen."

During Wilson's surgery, the bullet fragments from his mouth were removed, and a special fixator device was placed in there to help his jawbone heal properly.

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This device will help heal the damage caused by the bullets. (Photo courtesy of Regina Humane Society)

Koch says Wilson is on a very soft food diet and can't be biting or chewing on anything for a long time. "He has a muzzle on, which he is not very happy about. It's going to be on for about six weeks."

As Wilson was recovering from his surgery, his story was picked up by media in Saskatchewan. Wilson, Winnie, and their pups -- Wish, Wizard, Wishbone, Wolf, Winoe, Wags, Wess, and Wog -- were featured in newspaper articles and television and radio newscasts. Thanks to all the attention, Winnie and all of her puppies have already been adopted. Wilson still needs to finish healing, and he will be in foster care for a few more weeks.

"Winnie's owner has expressed an interest potentially," says Koch, who adds that the two don't necessarily have to go together. 

In his foster home, Wilson's temperament is improving as his fear subsides. Koch says he's exploring and open to experiencing new things. She says he's loving all the attention.

"He is gentle, kind, and loyal," she explains. "Wilson will do just about anything if you rub his tummy."

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Adorable Wilson has plenty of fans thanks to all of the media attention. (Photo courtesy of Regina Humane Society)

No one knows how long Wilson and Winnie went without regular access to food, but it's clear Wilson is happy to no longer be fending for himself. "Certainly he's enjoying his groceries. They're all very food motivated," says Koch.

The story of Wilson, Winnie, and their pups touched the hearts of animal lovers in Saskatchewan, with many online commenters condemning the violent act that caused Wilson so much pain. Many commenters want justice for Wilson and are calling for a criminal investigation. Sadly, it's unlikely any human will ever be held responsible for firing the bullets that lodged in Wilson's mouth. The Regina Humane Society just does not have any information to provide to police -- if it did, the organization would already be working with the police and court system.

While the identity of the human who hurt Wilson will never be known, the assistance of the community members who paid attention to a stray dog on an abandoned property will never be forgotten by the Regina Humane Society.

"We can't do it without the eyes and ears of the people in the community," says Koch.

At the end of his six-week treatment, Wilson will head back to the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon to have his fixator removed. When he's done healing, this brave dog will get to enjoy a future that includes plenty of food and a loving forever home.

Read more Monday Miracles:

About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.

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Mon, 29 Dec 2014 06:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/dog-shot-in-mouth-regina-humane-society-dog-rescue-adoption
<![CDATA[How a 12-Year-Old Cancer Survivor Pays It Forward to Shelter Animals]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/mckenzi-taylor-poundwishes-shelter-rescue-dogs When young Mckenzi Taylor asked her father why there wasn't a Make-a-Wish Foundation for dogs, Curtis Taylor knew that his kindhearted and compassionate daughter's idea was inspired by personal experience.

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Mckenzi was diagnosed with leukemia at age two, and at age four, the Make-a-Wish foundation granted the little girl's wish to be a princess for a day during a three-day trip to Disneyland while Mckenzi was undergoing chemotherapy. The experience positively impacted the now healthy 12-year-old.

Because of her illness, Mckenzi knows just how important it is to feel cared for and supported in times of need, and she wanted to do something to help others as she was helped by hospital staff and the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

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Mckenzi Taylor's own fight against cancer motivated her to help the plight of shelter animals and to prove that dedication and compassion know no age. "Never doubt yourself," she says. "And always be the best you can be."

A big animal lover, Mckenzi knew she wanted to pay it forward for animals who needed help the most: sick, injured, and abused shelter pets.

"That realization stayed with me, and when I visited a shelter looking to adopt a dog, it hit me how shelter pets are so helpless and that the really sick or injured pets had almost no chance of getting their wish of a second chance in a happy home," Mckenzi said about how she was inspired to help shelter animals.

With her parents' help, she started PoundWishes, a nonprofit effort that connects shelters and animal rescue groups with pet lovers all over North America to grant the wishes of dogs and cats in need of surgery, rehabilitation, medication, and other lifesaving intervention. Their mission is to get these animals as healthy as possible in order to save them from euthanasia and to facilitate adoption.

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Nigel's PoundWish to get treatment for his severe mange was granted when pet lovers generously donated more than $800. Nigel is now healthy and happy and in a forever home.

Between three to four million animals are euthanized every year in shelters in the United States, and those who come in sick, injured, or with behavioral issues are the first ones to be put down in order to keep spaces open for animals deemed more adoptable. Mckenzi wanted to reach out and give these pets in need a second chance at a happy, healthy life.

Since launching the website in March 2014, PoundWishes has raised more than $40,000 for shelter pets and their rescue groups, funded more than 1,112 PoundWishes, and has more than 225 shelter partners, according to Kim Coutts, the director of communications for PoundWishes. And in the first six months following the website's launch, PoundWishes was able to collect enough donations to fully grant 150 shelter pets' PoundWishes.

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Clyde the Collie was rescued with 13 other dogs from a terrible hoarding situation in New Jersey, but this "shy and easy-going gentleman" needs treatment for his severe pancreatitis and other ailments from neglect and malnutrition. To read more about Clyde's story and make a donation to his PoundWish, please check out his profile page.

PoundWishes works on the crowd-funding concept. On the website, every dog and cat listed has his or her own profile explaining the animal's story and the amount needed to fund the PoundWish. People can donate as much or as little as they would like, to help pay for everything from critical surgery to treatment for skin conditions to prosthetic limbs. Some dogs, though physically healthy, need intensive training and rehabilitation to overcome the psychological effects of abuse and neglect before being able to find a forever home.

And to help these deserving animals even more, the PoundWishes website also posts adoption listings for shelters all across the United States with a searchable database for available pets.

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This beautiful young dog is Anubis. He lost his hind leg in an accident, and PoundWishes is trying to raise enough money to cover the cost of his prosthetics so that Anubis can enjoy his life to the fullest. To learn more about his story, and to donate to his PoundWish, you can check out his profile page.

"It's hard for us to keep an accurate record of the PoundWish pets that are adopted because it would be up to the our very busy shelter partners to track and report those numbers separately," Coutts explains. "But we do keep pretty close tabs on our Wish pets' progress, and it's always a really great day when we see their pictures posted with their new forever families on social media or the shelter's website."

And while PoundWishes aims to fund critical lifesaving wishes for shelter animals, it also helps collect donations to provide routine care such as dental work and vaccinations as well as spay or neuter surgeries for the cats and dogs. Visitors on the PoundWishes website can see rescued shelter animals in foster homes who require simple procedures such as sterilization in order to find a forever home.

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Elliott was thrown from a moving vehicle and both his back legs were broken. Elliott's PoundWish will help fund his amputation surgery and rehabilitation. As soon as he recovers, Elliott's rescuers at Don't Bully Me Rescue and foster family know he'll make a wonderful pet. You can find out more about Elliott's journey on his PoundWishes' profile page.

"Many people don't realize that the most common reason people relinquish pets to a shelter is their inability to pay for this kind of care, so we continue to help fund these requests knowing it will increase stability for many pets once they are adopted," says Coutts.

PoundWishes' success is not only due to the fact that it's the only website of its kind that raises money for shelter animals who have little chance of adoption -- or survival -- without donations for lifesaving interventions, routine care, or rehabilitation, but also because of how much heart its small team, including Mckenzi, puts in.

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The PoundWishes website allows you to click on each featured shelter pet, like Clyde here, to learn what the animal needs and to help fund his or her wish. Thanks to generous donations, PoundWishes has granted more than 150 wishes to deserving animals since its launch.

"Pets suffer as much as people do, and we need to help," the inspiring 12-year-old says. "I really want people to get involved and volunteer at their local shelter or donate through PoundWishes." Mckenzi hopes the foundation will be able to raise more than $50,000 by the end of 2014 to help fund the shelter pets' wishes, and she also wants people to consider adopting pets from the PoundWishes website.

PoundWishes is focused on expanding its network of supporters and animal rescue partners in order to help as many sick and injured shelter pets as possible.

"The next big challenge is building a strong, national community of pet lovers and crowd funders who are willing to help," explains Coutts. "I think [our current success] really speaks to the value of Mckenzi's mission and what we can accomplish if we unite all the pet lovers out there behind a common goal."

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Mckenzi and furry friend Willie at Seal Beach Animal Care Center in California. Willie has since found a forever home.

If you would like to help grant a PoundWish for a shelter pet in need, please go check out the animals' profiles on the PoundWishes website. The foundation also features photos and information about the shelter pets on its Facebook page.

All photos courtesy of PoundWishes website and Facebook page.

Meet more Dogster Heroes:

About Crystal Gibson: A child-sized Canadian expat in France who is fluent in French and sarcasm. Owned by a neurotic Doxie mix, a Garfield look-alike, and two needy Sphynx cats. An aspiring writer and pet photographer with a love of coffee and distaste for French administration, she can be found as @PinchMom over on Twitter.

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Mon, 29 Dec 2014 04:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/mckenzi-taylor-poundwishes-shelter-rescue-dogs
<![CDATA[Lucky Puppy Wants You to Shop AND Adopt This Holiday Season]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/lucky-puppy-store-dog-rescue-adoption-los-angeles-poopie-foundation
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Is it a retail store or an animal shelter? Well, it's actually both -- and a little bit more. At Lucky Puppy in Studio City, California, not only can you shop for a wide variety of high-end dog accessories while your pooch spends time at its puppy spa, you also can find something more special: a new family member.

That's right: Amidst the luxurious dog beds and gourmet treats is a deeper mission, that of rescuing dogs from local kill shelters and bringing them into the store, where they will have a better, if not lifesaving, chance to be rehomed.

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Mike and Molly were recently up for adoption at Lucky Puppy. (All photos courtesy of Lucky Puppy's Facebook page.)

"After being in rescue for a number of years, I knew that there had to be a better way to allow rescue dogs to meet families who might want to adopt them," says founder Rachel Kennedy. "The shelters are scary for dogs, and most people walk away from shelters when they see so many dogs scared and barking in cages. I realized that I wanted Lucky Puppy to be like a Disneyland for dogs. A place that was fun and pretty, where kids and families could come and meet the dogs in a happy and cheerful environment."

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Lucky Puppy founder Rachel Kennedy.

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Rachel Kennedy with Lance Bass, who has fostered several dogs for Lucky Puppy.

Kennedy's better way is working, with a staggering 825 adoptions happening in the last two years, thanks to Lucky Puppy's convenient location on Ventura Boulevard and to the publicity associated with the celebrities who have found new canine family members there, such as Gary Oldman, Cybill Shepherd, Jamie Alexander, Tyler Posey, and Grant Gustin.

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Trainer Shawn Baxendale comes to Lucky Puppy to host free monthly training sessions.

To further its broader mission of reducing the number of homeless dogs in its community, Lucky Puppy also offers a free training class twice a month to anyone who wants to attend, and an expansion project is under way to open Rehab Ranch. The rehab and training center in northern Santa Clarita will provide training to clients and rescues and also host camps and day trips for inner-city students. To pull of all this off, Lucky Puppy puts 100 percent of the profits from its retail store and spa into the rescue and the sister nonprofit rescue organization, The Poopie Foundation.

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Leo and his littermate at Lucky Puppy.

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Little Bear recently got adopted at Lucky Puppy.

The love that Lucky Puppy doles out is reciprocated. "The community has embraced Lucky Puppy in such a loving way -- it's overwhelming at times," Kennedy says. "They take care of us in everything from dropping off cleaning products, food, treats, and toys to kids holding lemonade stands and raising money on their own to help our pups. Every day, we see kids and parents from the community -- we have an amazing core group of regulars as well as great new folks coming in every day."

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This family adopted Duffy the Poodle.

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Akiko the Akita-Lab mix found his forever family at Lucky Puppy, too.

With young volunteers coming in with their parents to walk dogs and teenagers looking to fulfill their volunteer commitment hours, Lucky Puppy also is helping to instill a sense of responsibility and compassion in the youth of Studio City. Kids aren't the only ones getting in on the action, either. Along with Sarah Silverman and David Hasselhoff, anyone who takes a stroll down Ventura Avenue has the opportunity to shower a little love on a pup waiting for his forever home.

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Saffron found his humans at Lucky Puppy.

Lucky Puppy doesn't just help the dogs in its care. Just this past July, the store got a call from a concerned community member who spotted a small white Maltipoo trapped inside a Los Angeles riverbed. A few staff members headed over in the 105-degree-Fahrenheit heat and found the dog trapped by 15-foot high cement walls with a fence on top.

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"Hi! Please foster or adopt us!"

They were able to drop food and water down to the dog, but he decided he had had enough of the situation and wanted to be with his would-be rescuers. With all his might, he took a flying leap toward them -– and didn't make it. He fell into the water and was washed away with the current. Kennedy, who had just arrived on the scene with the fire department, screamed to them that the dog had fallen in. With the fire department racing to the locked access gate, they were able to rescue him in the nick of time. There's no denying that Lucky Puppy earned his name.

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Rachel Kennedy with her charges.

Even though it's only two years old, Lucky Puppy has proven to be innovative and successful in the world of rescue. With the Rehab Ranch’s imminent opening and plans to host a series of therapy dog classes to certify volunteers and rescue dogs to help in senior centers and hospitals, it also will continue to expand on its mission of combining community outreach with saving furry little lives.

Lucky Puppy may soon be looking for a new location, though. With an old ventilation system and a complaining neighbor, the landlord wants the tenants and pups of Lucky Puppy to pack up and leave. Kennedy isn't sure where they'll go. "It's expensive to move, and obviously Christmas is not the time for a retail shop to be moving to a new location.”

Thankfully Lucky Puppy's friends are turning out to help. “The support has been wonderful," Kennedy says. "Adopters are coming forward to find out what they can do. One of our amazing adopters is married to a contractor/architect, who sent his staff out to find out how we can fix the insulation and keep our neighbors happy. Everyone seems to be sharing our story and trying to help keep us where we are.”

The community understands the need for Lucky Puppy to stay, because saving canine lives doesn't stop at the exit doors. But in order to continue the lifesaving mission, Lucky Puppy needs a place in which to work its miracles, and staff are hoping that place will continue to be within the community that has embraced them so much. 

To follow the amazing work Lucky Puppy does, visit its website and Facebook page. And if you would like to join in the compassionate community that Lucky Puppy has built, please join them in raising the funds needed to stay where they are, in the place where they have planted their hearts. 

Read about more Dogster Heroes here:

Do you know of a rescue hero — dog, human, or group — we should profile on Dogster? Write us at dogsterheroes@dogster.com. 

About the author: Eden Strong is a quirky young woman with a love for most animals with fur. She readily admits to living her life completely devoid of most social graces. More of her crazy antics can be read on her blog, It Is Not My Shame to Bear

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Wed, 24 Dec 2014 08:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/lucky-puppy-store-dog-rescue-adoption-los-angeles-poopie-foundation
<![CDATA[10 Dog Causes to Donate to This Holiday Season]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/holiday-donations-dog-causes-rescues-shelters-nonprofits With the holiday gift-giving season in full swing, many of us are feeling extra generous this time of year -- and that's good news for charities and nonprofits that depend on donations to help save animals. Whether you're making a donation on behalf of yourself, or in lieu of a gift to a loved one, there are plenty of dog-loving organizations that will be grateful for your holiday cheer.

1. SpayUSA

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(Photo courtesy of SpayUSA)

If you want to give the gift of low-cost spay and neuter surgeries to your fellow Americans this holiday season, then North Shore Animal League America's SpayUSA program is a great place to send a donation. This organization has been helping to lessen pet overpopulation since 1993, and it believes that spay and neuter services should never be out of reach for anyone who owns a dog (or cat). 

2. America's Vet Dogs

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(Photo courtesy of America's Vet Dogs)

Support members of the military by donating to America's Vet Dogs this holiday season. The nonprofit organization began as an offshoot of the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind and has grown rapidly. It continues to provide guide dogs to blind veterans, but it also gives service dogs to vets with other disabilities and places physical and occupational therapy dogs and stress-control dogs. When making a donation to America's Vet Dogs, you have the option to donate in memory of a person or animal in your life. You can even have a card mailed to someone to inform them of the donation you've made in tribute.

3. National Mill Dog Rescue

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The late Lily, an Italian greyhound breeder, was the dog that started inspired the creation of National Mill Dog Rescue. (Photo courtesy of NMDR)

Several National Mill Dog Rescue alumni were profiled as Dogster Monday Miracles in 2014. NMDR saves breeding dogs the mills are discarding, and it works to educate the puppy-buying public about what life is really like for these dogs, who spend their lives caged, producing litter after litter. The organization has placed more than 9,000 former breeding dogs in happy homes across the U.S since 2007 and accepts donations by mail or online. 

4. Canadian Federation of Humane Societies

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(Photo courtesy of Canadian Federation of Humane Societies)

This one is for our Canuck readers. The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies helps SPCAs and Humane Societies across the Great White North help animals. The CFHS is committed to educating Canadians about the realities of backyard breeding and puppy mills, and promoting the responsible adoption of homeless pets through local human societies and SPCAs. During the holiday season, if you donate in a loved-one's name, they will receive a special card from a symbolic animal mascot. 

5. Pets of the Homeless

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(Photo courtesy of Pets of the Homeless)

One of our 2014 Dogster Heroes, Pets of the Homeless is dedicated to helping homeless people in the United States and Canada care for their companion animals. The nonprofit provides dog and cat food to homeless shelters and soup kitchens to distribute to homeless people with pets. The organization also provides emergency veterinary care and helps get crates into homeless shelters so pets can stay with their owners overnight. You can make a donation online.

6. Hope For Paws

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Theo before and after. (Photos courtesy of Hope for Paws)

The videos produced by Los Angeles-based rescue Hope For Paws are tear-inducing, and the results of the organization's rescues make for stunningly different before and after shots. Over the past couple of years, Dogster has extensively covered Hope For Paws' founder Eldad Hagar's knack for saving the most fearful stray dogs on the streets of L.A. The organization has attracted hundreds of thousands of Facebook followers and plenty of international media attention, but the nonprofit is, of course, still looking for donations to fund the care of these dogs who so desperately need human help.

7. 4 Paws for Ability

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(Photo courtesy of 4 Paws For Ability)

This nonprofit out of Ohio is educating society about the use of service dogs in public places, while also helping children and veterans find service dogs of their own. 4 Paws for Ability trains services dogs to help with a variety of physical differences, with dogs specializing in hearing assistance, autism assistance, mobility assistance, diabetes alerts, seizure alerts, and more. A gift to 4 Paws for Ability this holiday season could be a gift to a family awaiting a service dog.

8. The American Pit Bull Foundation

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(Photo courtesy of the American Pit Bull Foundation)

Pit Bulls are up against a lot of bias and misinformation in today's world, but the American Pit Bull Foundation is working to change that. The organization focuses on education and responsible breed ownership, and it also organizes adoptions and provides assistance to help responsible owners whose pets are facing medical problems. If you love Pits, you'll love the advocacy work this nonprofit is doing. Plus, a gift to APBF goes straight to the dogs in its care.

9. Wings of Rescue

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(Photo courtesy of Wings of Rescue)

Another Dogster Hero of 2014, Wings of Rescue is a volunteer organization that connects pilots and rescues to fly animals from high-kill California shelters to other states, where they can find forever homes. Donations allow this organization to continue transporting dogs to a better future. 

10. Your local shelters and rescues

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Both of this writer's dogs spent time in shelters.

Community animal shelters and rescue organizations are always looking for extra cash to keep the lights on and the kibble flowing. Most accept cash or credit card donations, and some even post wish lists on their websites. Maybe check those lists this holiday season and pick up an extra bag of dog food when you buy your own, or you can purchase a pet store gift card for your favorite local rescue. Even if it doesn't seem like much, the rescue groups in your community will appreciate any donation that can help them save another life.

Do you have any suggestions that didn't make the list? Let us know in the comments.

Read related stories on Dogster:

About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.

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Wed, 24 Dec 2014 04:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/holiday-donations-dog-causes-rescues-shelters-nonprofits
<![CDATA[The New "Shelter Me" Episode Includes a Dog-Rescue Airlift]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/allison-janney-shelter-me-new-episode-trailer-videos-pbs The fourth installment of Shelter Me, the emotionally charged, uplifting documentary series that brings attention to America’s dog shelters, airs this month on PBS. It's hosted by actress and animal advocate Allison Janney, who also shares the screen with her three adopted dogs. 

“I am honored to bring awareness to the thousands of loving pets in animal shelters across the country that needs homes,” Allison says. “I adopted three amazing dogs and they bring so much joy to my life.” 

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Allison Janney with one of her adopted dogs.

Here's a preview of what's in the new episode: Shelter Me: New Beginnings focuses on two story lines. In one, nine pilots from Wings of Rescue volunteered to fly 128 dogs from overcrowded shelters in California, where the dogs were soon to be put down, to Idaho, where shelters had the space to spare.

“They were all adopted in two or three weeks,” says director and producer Steven Latham.

The other story involves nationally recognized animal trainer Aimee Sadler from Dogs Playing for Life, who visits shelters in Philadelphia and Baltimore to teach volunteers and dogs to interact in a play yard together. Not only does the program provide the dogs with the proper exercise regimen, but “it shows how each dog works well with other dogs,” says Latham. “That can be an important factor for many when choosing a pet.” 

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Volunteers and dogs practicing Aimee Sadler's tips.

“The uplifting stories told in the series reinforce how incredible shelter pets are and why they deserve a loving home,” says Latham, who volunteers in six shelters in L.A. in his spare time. He says he created the series to break down the misconception that shelter dogs won’t make good pets.

“Shelter pets make the best pets,” he says. 

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Trainer Aimee Sadler with some of the shelter pups.

The episode premieres Oct. 5. Go to ShelterMe.TV for local listings. You can find previous episodes of the series on Netflix and iTunes. Watch the trailer for episode four here:

Read related stories on Dogster:

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Wed, 01 Oct 2014 08:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/allison-janney-shelter-me-new-episode-trailer-videos-pbs
<![CDATA["Show Your Soft Side" Pairs Celebrity Tough Guys With Dogs to Prevent Animal Cruelty]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/animal-cruelty-soft-side-tommy-lee-henry-rollins-torrey-smith-interview I’m going to let you in on a secret. I like my job. I get to write about my guide dog and interview celebrities about their dogs, but what I like most is that when I come across an animal cause that is doing fantastic work, I get to spread some light about it. 

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Which is why when I heard about the Show Your Soft Side campaign, I had to learn more about it; any cause whose focus is to prevent the harm of animals gets my attention. I recently spoke with Sande Riesett, the founder of the campaign, to learn more about the Baltimore-based organization.

Brian Fischler for Dogster: When did you come up with the Show Your Soft Side campaign?

Sande Riesett: In 2011 we had a lot of really horrific animal abuse incidents happen in Baltimore. A lot of them were being done by kids, some as young as 10 years old. I guess I live in ignorant bliss, as I just thought that everyone who had a pet took care of him or her. Pets are one of the best parts of childhood, so I couldn’t even imagine that kids were doing this.

When I heard about these incidents I was so pissed off I couldn’t even function. A friend introduced me to someone at the Anti-Animal Abuse Commission in the city, and I wanted to help, but thought to myself that the only thing I know how to do is advertising. Originally I wanted to put together a campaign that would go in to schools, so that’s kind of how it all started.

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Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter.

How did the first photograph come together?

You didn’t need to have a Ph.D. to realize that the kids who were harming animals were not going to care what you or I thought. However, the people they do look up to -- athletes and rockers, who are kind of like America’s royalty -- would have the kids' attention.

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Punk musician, spoken-word artist, and History Channel presenter Henry Rollins with his rescue dog, Bear.

The idea itself kind of came from watching my husband with our cat. Our cat showed up at our door about 10 years ago all beaten up and weighing about four pounds, and we now have our whole life based around this cat. Around the cat my husband totally changes; his tone with the cat is very different than it is with me; he’s like a big marshmallow with the cat. And I thought, "I wonder if a lot more guys out there are really like this?" So it led to the original idea: to find out if these big tough guys really did have a soft side.

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NFL analyst Brian Baldinger.

Show Your Soft Side is such a perfect tag line. Where did you come up with it?

It was pretty simple. Our cat's name is Little Man, and when my husband is with our cat, you see a whole other side to him. I thought he’s really showing his soft side, and it just kind of evolved from there. 

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Mixed-martial arts fighter Sammy Oropeza.

What were the first steps to rolling out the campaign? 

The first step was trying to get to these guys who we wanted to photograph for the campaign. A girlfriend of mine suggested I contact the local rock station, as they are the local flagship station for the Baltimore Orioles. I went in to meet with her, and every square inch of her office was covered with a photograph of either an athlete or an animal, so immediately I knew she was the right person. She got the Orioles' Adam Jones to be our first Softie.

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Comedian and activist Rebecca Corry.

We then got mixed martial artist John Rallo, a big tattooed guy. He absolutely loves kitty cats, and our third Softee was Baltimore Ravens Jarret Johnson. From there the campaign has just taken off. We've have had Tommy Lee from Motley Crue, UFC’s John Jones, and basically athletes and rockers from every field imaginable. We also had one woman, comedian Rebecca Corry, who we felt fit in perfectly with our message.

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The Baltimore Orioles' Adam Jones and Missy.

How do the rock stars and athletes with these hardcore images react when you approach them for Show Your Soft Side?

It’s really been very interesting, as every single guy we have been able to get to personally has immediately said yes. Having worked in advertising for a long time and been involved with a lot of celebrity photo shoots, they usually come in, get their photo done, and are gone. You never hear from them again. Everyone who has been photographed for the campaign has really continued to care and stay involved with us. It’s not unusual to get an email from someone like Henry Rollins, who will check in to see if there is anything he can do.

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Tommy Lee of Motley Crue.

Is there more to the Show Your Soft Side campaign than just photos?

We recently had an event where some of our Softies were guest bartenders for the night. They all really do care about the animals. We also hold a yearly event called Pawject Runway where our Softies model adoptable cats and dogs.

Tell us about one of the more memorable experiences from the campaign.

Torrey Smith from the Baltimore Ravens NFL team was photographed, and then he threw out the first pitch at an Orioles game. We were discussing the astronomical number of dogs living in shelters, and right there Torrey decided he wanted to rescue a dog. We put him in touch with our contact at the local shelter.

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Torrey Smith of the Baltimore Ravens proposed to his girlfriend, Chenelle, during a Soft Side shoot with their rescue pitbulls.

What was really cute was he has these two Pit Bulls (one who he got from the shelter), and he was going to propose to his girlfriend, and he wanted his dogs to be part of it. He called one night and asked if we could set up a fake Soft Side shoot so he could propose to Chanelle and have the dogs as part of it. It was really great, and very memorable.

What are the primary goals of Show Your Soft Side?

When we started our goal was to reach the kids. I don’t know if we are doing that, and there’s no real way to track the impact the campaign has had, but what we have found is that our local shelter, Barks, will tell you they have seen an increase in donations, adoptions, and volunteerism at the shelter. Some of it is immediately traceable from Soft Side. Our goal is really to help the shelters and rescues.

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Nate McLouth of the Washington Nationals.

There’s three of us who make up the team. Myself, Lori Smith and Caroline Griffin. We are also very fortunate to have a great photographer -- Leo Howard Lubow has done about 90 percent of the photos.

Are there plans to expand Show Your Soft Side outside of Baltimore?

We are trying to replicate it in Philadelphia. The advertising for the campaign was recently released with billboards and transit ads. We also get a lot of letters from teachers, and we send them out materials to help where we can. I recently heard from a teacher in Camden, New Jersey, that the animal abuse was really bad in her area, so we sent out photos so she would have something positive to show the kids.

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Baltimore cop and kitten lover Jon Boyer.

We would like to expand to Washington D.C. next, as it’s the next logical market. But beyond that we would need people in other cities to get involved. Having a group on the ground locally that can make things happen is important for the campaign to be a success.

How can people get involved?

Right now the best way to get involved is through sponsorship, buying merchandise from our site, or attending Pawject Runway. Hopefully in the future we will be expanding to more markets, making it even easier for people to get involved nationally.

You started out wondering if tough guys do have a soft side. Have you reached a decision?

Considering we have had more than 70 rockers and athletes pose for Show Your Soft Side, I would definitely say all tough guys have a soft side!

If there is a celebrity you would like to suggest and help secure for the Show Your Soft Side campaign, feel free to contact the team at info@showyoursoftside.org. Learn more about the Show Your Soft Side campaign on the site and follow it on Facebook.  

Most of the photos for Show Your Soft Side are by the awesome Leo Howard Lubow

Do you know of a rescue hero — dog, human, or group — we should profile on Dogster? Write us at dogsterheroes@dogster.com.  

Read more about rescue on Dogster:

About the author: Brian Fischler is a standup comedian and writer. He has been seen on The Today Show, published in Maxim Magazine as the Comedian of the Month, and on Top Gear USA on The History Channel. Brian also runs Laugh For Sight, a bicoastal comedy benefit featuring the biggest names in comedy that come together to raise money and awareness for retinal degenerative eye disease research. Connect with Brian on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. 

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Thu, 28 Aug 2014 04:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/animal-cruelty-soft-side-tommy-lee-henry-rollins-torrey-smith-interview
<![CDATA[I'm Not a Monster: Group Sheds Light on Vilified Dog Breeds]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/dog-breeds-vilified-pit-bull-im-not-a-monster-nonprofit-rescue-adoption
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When you first view I'm Not a Monster's website, you're greeted by a host of pictures of dogs. Some are sleeping, some are goofy, but no two are alike. I'm Not a Monster is "an advocacy initiative that aims to dispel myths associated with misunderstood dog breeds." Although I'm Not a Monster is not a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit group, it operates as a not-for-profit organization, solely funded by the founder. We were impressed with the positive environment it has created on the website and within the Facebook community, so we got in touch with the founder, Imelda Suriato, to find out more!

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Kellan had a rough start, but her rescue story is amazing!

In January of 2010, Suriato and her husband rescued Rosco, a 10-month-old puppy who was malnourished and being abused by his owner. When family members learned that Rosco was a Pit Bull, they reacted strongly, instructing Suriato to get rid of the dog or have him put down. Fortunately for Rosco, Suriato and her husband knew better than to fall prey to the sensational horror stories about Pit Bulls in popular culture. Instead, they gave Rosco their love and affection, along with careful training and understanding. They later adopted another Pit Bull, Rudy, who has brought much joy to Rosco and the rest of the family. Rosco and Rudy are both about five years old now, and the Suriatos hope to enjoy them for many more years to come.

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A user-submitted happily-ever-after story of Laila Ali, a case of neglect, on I'm Not a Monster's Facebook page.

Rosco's beginnings and her family's reaction led Suriato to start I'm Not a Monster to celebrate responsible pet ownership, as well as educate the public about what wonderful pets dogs like Pit Bulls are. She feels the biggest issue facing Pit Bulls today isn't the media, but the irresponsible owners. "Ill-informed owners need education and resources to be better owners -- they just don't know better," says Suriato.

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Sadie, a pup born in a shelter that was faced with tons of setbacks, including mange, ended up as a service dog with a loving family.

To help educate the public on responsible pet ownership, Suriato took to the Internet and Facebook, creating a community where the dogs tell the stories, not the people. Suriato believes in giving the dogs a voice because "the public and media rarely give these [dogs] a chance." This unique approach has clearly been a success, if the ever-increasing Facebook following is any indication.

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I'm Not a Monster's founder, Imelda Suriato, with Rosco and Rudy.

Suriato has also used her website and Facebook presence to raise funds to help shelters and dogs in need. She donates the proceeds from the store on a regular basis, as well as host a Monster Holiday Drive each year. The Holiday Drive involves "elves" around the country setting up donation boxes and collecting mail from donors to send to the shelters on I'm Not a Monster's donor list. The Monster Drive started in 2012, after organizers saw dog toys on clearance and realized how much they had in common with dogs left in shelters. The first year, the drive amassed more than $20,000 in donated items for shelters. Overwhelmed by this response, I'm Not a Monster hosted another Monster Drive last year and collected $100,000 in donations. BarkBox jumped on board and generously sent boxes to each "elf" for the shelters. This year, it plans to start the drive in October to hopefully double their numbers.

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Bailey in I'm Not a Monster's Valentine's Day campaign. After photo courtesy of Gloria Anderson.

It's amazing that Suriato manages to oversee the I'm Not a Monster website, Facebook page, the store, and fundraising events, all while still working a day job for a marketing agency in bustling New York City. Suriato doesn't consider herself a hero, though. Instead, she sees her efforts as a "uniting force, a connector of good, selfless people who are focused on doing the hard work but not seeking the limelight." She hopes to keep I'm Not a Monster running as a continuous, positive voice for dogs, as well as ensuring continued success of the Monster Drive.

Part of what keeps her going is the success stories. The Suriatos are particularly proud of the part they got to play in Bailey's story, a blind and deaf dog who was dumped in a parking lot in Houston. Together, the I'm Not a Monster Facebook community helped Bailey find her new home in Las Vegas, Nevada, where she inspired her family to start the Hearts Alive Village, a nonprofit dedicated to finding homes for cats and dogs.

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From I'm Not a Monster's Facebook page: Gracie, whose story started as a "dead dog" call to animal control.

Our hat is off to Suriato and her efforts to maintain a positive community for dog lovers to share their dogs' stories, as well as fight breed-specific legislation and lead fundraising campaigns for shelter dogs and others in need!

Read more about rescue on Dogster:

Do you know of a rescue hero — dog, human, or group — we should profile on Dogster? Write us at dogsterheroes@dogster.com.

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Thu, 29 May 2014 04:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/dog-breeds-vilified-pit-bull-im-not-a-monster-nonprofit-rescue-adoption
<![CDATA[50 Dogs Rescued From Decrepit Puppy Mill in Wisconsin]]> http://www.dogster.com/the-scoop/50-dogs-rescued-puppy-mill-wisconsin After Friday's news about how Phoenix has become the latest city to ban pet stores from selling animals bred by puppy and kitten farms, it's worth remembering why puppy farms are considered such a problem. While the one that was found this weekend in Lincoln County, Wisconsin, is an extreme case, it's an excellent example of the problems the pet market causes.

This Saturday, 50 dogs were rescued from a house near the town of Gleason. The building had no heat and had already been condemned. Connie Cimino, a volunteer for the Lincoln County Humane Society who helped rescue the dogs, described the condition of the house as appalling (Warning: autoplay video) for either humans or canines.

"I had never seen anything like that before," she told the Wasau Daily Herald. "The home was in deplorable condition. You would be stepping in feces, and there was urine everywhere. The couple was sleeping on a mattress. The smell was unbelievable." The dogs were a variety of breeds, including Australian Shepherds, Chihuahuas, and small mixed-breed dogs.

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An exhausted dog resting in his new, warmer home.

On the good side, this wasn't a raid, where the police swarmed in and slapped on the cuffs. The owners themselves had contacted the Humane Society about taking about 20 of the dogs. When volunteers saw the condition of the house and the dogs, they persuaded the couple to surrender all of them.

Certainly some of the dogs were intended to be sold, but it's unclear exactly how much of the situation was a fly-by-night puppy mill and how much of it was a hoarding compulsion. Patrick Hoerstmann, the Society's board president, said that the dogs were mostly in good health, but another night inside the house without heat could very well have killed some of the younger dogs. Right now, Weather.com reports that Gleason's temperatures range from 19 degrees Fahrenheit in the day to below zero at night.

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The sudden influx of 50 dogs, which all have to be fed, watered, spayed, and neutered, is putting a huge strain on the resources of the Lincoln County Humane Society. Hoerstmann estimates that spaying and neutering alone will mean $8,000 to $10,000 in expenses.

But fortunately, there's a really heartwarming element to this story: The people of Lincoln County have enthusiastically stepped forward to help the dogs and their new caretakers. Shelter Manager Liz Friedenfels says that "There's been such an outpouring of support it's been incredible. Walmart sold out of canned dog food yesterday." The shelter is still in need of cleaning supplies and milk replacer for dogs that are still nursing.

As of right now, the couple who were keeping the dogs aren't facing any criminal charges.

Via Wasau Daily Herald

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Mon, 23 Dec 2013 13:00:00 -0800 /the-scoop/50-dogs-rescued-puppy-mill-wisconsin
<![CDATA[After 7 Years in a Shelter, Tanya the Mastiff Wants to Go Home]]> http://www.dogster.com/the-scoop/dog-rescue-adoption-video-photos-tanya-mastiff It's no secret that it can be very, very hard to get shelter dogs adopted into proper homes, especially when they're past the "adorable little puppy" stage. It's even trickier if the dog is a breed that's gotten a lot of bad press. When people see an adult Mastiff or Pit Bull in a cage, many will immediately think that he or she came straight from some Michael Vick-like dogfighting operation.

Tanya, a brindle Mastiff mix, is an extreme example of a story that could be told many times over. As you can see from the video, she spent seven years -- practically her entire life -- in the Yonkers Animal Shelter. Her first owner dropped her off when she was just about six months old. That's a very long time to be in a shelter, even a no-kill one.

Tanya's cause has been taken up by Mr. Bones & Co., a nonprofit group that gives financial assistance and support to rescue organizations in the NYC area. She's part of the group's One Lucky Pup program, which puts effort into rescuing, rehabilitating, and rehoming one single dog. In this case, it's Tanya.

I'm looking at Tanya's story, and I'm trying to imagine being in a shelter, even a good one, for seven years. Seven years ago, we had a different president. Just over five years ago, I was still living in Brooklyn, not Berkeley, and some days that seems so remarkably distant that I can barely remember it. The brief time that Tanya had an actual family must seem even farther away, if she can remember it at all.

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Tanya with her foster mom.

If she doesn't, Mr. Bones & Co. are working hard to see that she can at least make some new memories with a new life. Already, she's been taken in by a foster mom, and she's been evaluated by trainers. Based on how she responds to tester dogs that have been introduced to her, Mr. Bones & Co. says that she's probably going to be most comfortable in a home with no other dogs, or with an older male dog.

The drive to get Tanya a home isn't urgent only for her sake; Mr. Bones & Co. announced just last night that it can't take on any more dogs until she's been adopted, and the Yonkers Animal Shelter just had 11 dogs come in, including nine puppies who were rescued from living outside. Once Tanya finds her home, they can start helping out with the others.

If you're near the New York area and think Tanya could be for you, drop them a line at info@mrbonesandco.org.

Via Mr. Bones and Co. Facebook Page

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Mon, 16 Dec 2013 12:00:00 -0800 /the-scoop/dog-rescue-adoption-video-photos-tanya-mastiff
<![CDATA[We Talk to the Stars of the Online Reality Show "Life in the Dog House"]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/reality-tv-show-online-life-in-the-dog-house-video-rescue-adoption Chris Hughes and Mariesa Caliguire run an eight-dog household. If that wasn't enough of a canine commitment, they also recently fostered another dog who just so happened to have a litter of pups while staying at their abode. That took Chris and Mariesa's in-home total to a whopping 21 dogs! They've since successfully placed the pups in new loving homes and, in the process, become the lead figures in a new online reality show called Life in the Dog House.

With the second episode of Life in the Dog House out now (and available to view at the end of this post), we called up Chris and Mariesa to get their real-life tips on running a harmonious multi-dog household, talk about the heartbreaking scenes they've seen while rescuing dogs, and find out which scamp broke a very expensive vacuum cleaner.

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Official puppy transportation tactics. Photo via Facebook

Dogster: So which dog did you guys adopt first?

Chris Hughes: Gremlin came first. Gremlin came from a fighting ring in the Baltimore, D.C., area. She was rescued by an undercover cop through Odessa Rescue and Rehabilitation and then I adopted her from them.

What was it about Gremlin that made you want to adopt her?

It was just one of those situations where you met her and the personality was just so overwhelming and she loved everybody even after everything she's been through.

Did Gremlin have any issues once you got her home?

Just physically. Her back legs were broken. But we worked with her; it was just a case of persisting. But she didn't have any behavior issues towards people.

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Canine Tetris

So how did Gremlin turn into a house of eight dogs?

After Gremlin came Sammy, who was found in the basement of a foreclosed home. There were two dogs chained up and they found them when they went in to clean up the house afterwards. He went to Baltimore Animal Control and they contacted me and I took him in. Then Quinn was in a boarding house with 50 other dogs. Stig was from the City of Cleveland kennel and he was a stray and we took him the day he was about to be euthanized. We picked him up that morning and he just never left! We just kinda kept going from there; we also have Meatball, Money, Moses and Tejas.

Did you have any conversations with Mariesa about whether you were adopting too many dogs?

Well, I actually had six when I met her.

Mariesa CaliguireI had the two Greyhounds. They don't have any great backstory -- they're just retired racing dogs. I was a foster. Collectively now we've just starting letting all the puppies go, even though there was one I wanted to keep. Sometimes I'm the voice of reason for him and sometimes he's the voice of reason for me, but we know right now that we have a really balanced pack of dogs and we don't want to offset that negatively. Not adopting any more helps us to assist with rescuing more.

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Mariesa and Chris with the dogs

Do all eight of the dogs get on?

CH: They all get along really well and they're all allowed to sleep in the bedroom upstairs -- they've all been on the bed at the same time before. Occasionally we'll have toy issues when one has a toy and the other one wants it. We can tell when we're going to have an issue but we know our dogs and I think it comes down to paying attention to them.

So which dog causes the most havoc in the house?

MC: Meatball!

CH: Yeah, Meatball's a terrier who is nuts.

MC: He has anxiety and he's on Xanax and Benadryl, anything to kinda take the edge off his day because his mind is always on fast-forward.

CH: I never wanted to medicate a dog and we took him to two behaviorists. He ate his tail one day out of anxiety and that made me realize that for him to live comfortably he needed some help.

MC: Even now he's still very high-strung and neurotic. 

CH: He's thinking 10 steps ahead all the time.

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Busted! Photo via Facebook

Did one of the dogs break a vacuum cleaner?

MC: Oh yeah, Gremlin! We keep Gremlin and the Greyhounds in the kitchen at times. Gremlin likes to open the gate, and they got out and found the vacuum cleaner. She chewed through the cord.

CH: That's a $500 Dyson vacuum!

MC: That's just one of many things they've done in the last couple of weeks. Since we had the puppies I think a bit of jealousy has crept in.

CH: We recently had a mom we took from a kennel, and the day after we took her she gave birth to 12 puppies.

MC: We had 21 dogs in the house.

CH: It was splitting our time. I think that the dogs felt left out because the puppies required so much care and the mom required so much care. I was sleeping up there in the kennels with her every night. I think our dogs felt neglected a little bit.

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Pups upon pups upon pups! Photo via Facebook

What's the most heartbreaking situation you've come across when rescuing a dog?

CH: We get them all the time and that's one of the hardest things to get to terms with. We're both very emotional. We can't really look at the cruelty stuff and it's hard to know what some of these dogs go through.

MC: I have a hard time seeing any dog in such a situation. We just sponsored a fighting dog. He was so gentle with us and curled right up on our laps and gave us kisses. He was covered in scars and open wounds.

CH: He was a mess. He was one of the most wounded dogs I've ever seen. He had to go into a rehab group -- he couldn't just be a normal foster -- and he'll go through special training and rehabilitation. 

MC: We're not trainers. Our dogs will sit with us at the dining table when we eat at home!

CH: Yeah, we have a good pack mentality, where the dogs do know that we're the leaders, but they'll push us. Sammy does sit on the chair at the table with us.

MC: But very politely.

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Keeping up on the neighborhood gossip

When did Sammy start deciding to eat at the table?

CH: He had surgery on his back leg so I'm amazed he can even get on a chair. But one day maybe six months ago a chair was out and he just pulled himself up onto it and sat on it.

MC: Now he'll jump on a barstool and sit there with us. He'll occasionally get onto the table if the sun is shining and lay on the table.

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Oh, just a bunch of cutie-pie puppies! Photo via Facebook

What's the biggest tip you'd give to someone with a multi-dog household?

CH: Be patient. I think patience is the biggest thing. A lot of people are so quick to jump to the conclusion that it isn't working out, but there are so many things you can do to work out a situation. You can always see a trainer or ask for help. There are always ways to work with the trainers. Don't jump to negative conclusions. 

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Snuggle time!

Are any of the dogs either scared of the cameras or intrigued by them?

MC: Sammy and Quinn are both timid dogs. Sammy was never really socialized with people, so he can be standoffish if someone comes in the house, and Quinn will bark. But the girl who does the video is so great -- the dogs love her.

CH: She lets them come to her. She takes her time.

Has Gremlin tried to chew through any camera equipment?

MC: Yes! She tried to chew through the microphone on top of the camera. She's a spunky dog!

Check out further episodes of Life in the Dog House over at HooplaHa

Read more about dogs on TV:

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Fri, 11 Oct 2013 06:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/reality-tv-show-online-life-in-the-dog-house-video-rescue-adoption
<![CDATA[Dogs in War Zones Get Help from a Middle East Rescue Group Called Animals Lebanon]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/dogs-war-zone-dog-rescue-animals-lebanon
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With car bombs and unsettling violence in nearby Middle Eastern countries, life is tough for all creatures in Lebanon. One organization is battling to save abused and neglected dogs and other animals in very difficult circumstances.

“All animals suffer here as there are no enforceable welfare laws or regulations,” says Jason Mier, executive director of rescue organization Animals Lebanon, which just turned five. “Animals are often seen as temporary, instead of a lifetime commitment, so they can be abandoned at whim for essentially any reason. There is also dog fighting, which is still prominent in some regions of the country; no government programs for stray animal management; and dogs are occasionally shot or poisoned.”

But Mier is keen to emphasize that Lebanese people are not unkind to animals. “Life is not easy for many people here,” he says. “Unemployment, minimum wage that was only recently increased to $500 per month, political instability, and on and on. It can be frustrating at times but it is understandable that people's compassion can only extend so far. I have also met people who have nothing and go out of their way to assist animals.”

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Lala's owner, Abed, built a wheelchair for her after she had a car accident. Photo courtesy Animals Lebanon's Facebook page

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Jack, Mark, and Gilbert with their adopted dogs Aki, Lucy, and Bingo. Photo courtesy Animals Lebanon's Facebook page

Animals Lebanon was started by local people, and the majority of donors are Lebanese, but there are limits in what many local people can do to care for animals. Abed, a building manager in Beirut, built a makeshift wheelchair for his dog, Lala, after she was hit by a car and he couldn't afford the $700 operation to mend her hind legs. She was reported to the rescue group, and when Mier first saw her she had painful ulcers and blisters on her body where it rubbed against the wheelchair. “Abed asked for our help,” says Mier. “We rushed Lala to the vet who said she has little chance of walking again. We could treat her wounds but would need to get her to a place that could give her the specialized care she needed.”

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Lala got hydrotherapy in the U.S. and can now use her hind legs again. Photo courtesy Animals Lebanon's Facebook page

After a Facebook campaign to help Lala, Animals Lebanon raised enough money to send her to the U.S., where she got medical care from a rescue group that helps abused, neglected and disabled dogs, called HANDDS to the Rescue. Thanks to the love and treatment (hydro-therapy really helped) she received there, last month Lala was able to stand on her hind legs for the first time.

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Some of the rescue dogs from Animals Lebanon found new homes in New York. Image courtesy Animals Lebanon's Facebook page.

Another heart-warming success story from Animals Lebanon is that of Hazel and Aiden, who were in a terrible state when they were found living rough in an empty basement. The rescue group's care has seen the animals transformed from skinny, mange-ridden wretches to healthy, glossy-furred friendly pets. It took workers four days to catch Hazel and Aiden and then four months to heal their physical injuries and diseases.

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Hazel and Aiden arrive at the shelter. Photo courtesy Animals Lebanon's Facebook page.

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Aiden getting some love at the shelter. Photo courtesy Animals Lebanon's Facebook page.

Last month they were flown to the U.S. to be homed near Chicago with the help of U.S. Golden Retriever rescue group As Good As Gold and dog care provider Hightails Hideaway. “When I first spotted Hazel she looked to me like a ghost, completely bald with sores, not able to walk simply as she couldn't stop itching,” said Maggie Shaarawi, vice president of Animals Lebanon. “I felt responsible towards them to get them through this and show them that there is no more suffering.”

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Hazel's transformation is truly heartwarming. Photo courtesy Animals Lebanon's Facebook page.

Hazel's and Aiden's happy faces and waggy tails show what a difference Animals Lebanon make with the help of dedicated volunteers and generous donations. They prove that even from the most desperate of situations, love and nuture can bring life back from the edge of hopelessness.

See Hazel's and Aiden's miraculous transformation here:

Follow Animals Lebanon on Facebook and HANDDS to the Rescue on Facebook.

Read more by Anna Leach and about international rescue groups:

 Do you know of a rescue hero — dog, human, or group — we should profile on Dogster? Write us at dogsterheroes@dogster.com.

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Wed, 02 Oct 2013 06:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/dogs-war-zone-dog-rescue-animals-lebanon
<![CDATA[5 Things Pet Rescue Groups Do That Drive Me Crazy]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/five-things-pet-dog-rescue-drive-me-crazy Good rescue groups and organizations do not get enough credit for the painstaking, gut wrenching, heartfelt labor of love that goes into every effort in which they are involved. I am indirectly involved in dog rescue: Though I am not on the front lines, I am behind the scenes and involved in the fundraising and social media aspect of dog rescue.

During the BlogPaws pet bloggers social media conference in May, I had the pleasure of listening to a few dozen rescue groups talk about who they are, what they do, and how the folks in attendance could help. Throughout the evening, it occurred to me that there are things I could offer in terms of advice. After all, I am a rescue group's target audience: Loves dogs, has rescued before and will again, is willing to put her money where her mouth is and donate.

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My heart beats dog, so attending pet-welcoming events where rescue folks gather is on my must list.

So here's my stab at some constructive criticism. Here are a few of the things rescue groups are doing wrong and what I propose they do to make them right.

1. Posting horrific late-night Facebook pleas

Waiting until 10 at night and sending a barrage of "Rescue this dog or he will die in the morning" notices across my Facebook feed do not help, in most cases.

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Cody is a dog seeking his forever home. Is that yours? http://www.adoptapet.com/pet/9059123-tiger-georgia-collie-mix

A fellow blogger and writing pal of mine, JaneA Kelley, took issue with the onslaught of "help or die" Facebook posts she saw seeping into her timeline and wrote about it for Catster. I feel the same way. I asked a few dozen of my Facebook friends what they do when those posts cross their wall.

The majority of them either hide those posts or hurriedly scroll through their feed. I share dogs who need homes all the time on my Facebook page, but I stopped putting them as 11th hour "do it now" and with guilt-inducing prose to accompany the sad photos. I love dogs, my heart beats dog for Pete's sake, but please don't wait until late at night and expect many of us to act.

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Yes, if you needed a home, I'd adopt you!

As an aside, how many of you hear Sarah McLachlan singing "Angel" as it blares from your television and hurry to flip the channel because those poor dogs in cages makes you cry nearly instantly?

2. Neglecting to attend conferences and mix with pet bloggers

How many rescue folks are attending pet-related conferences that matter and can actually give them a voice, someone to listen, and get their word spread like wildfire? I realize there is a cost involved, time away, someone to take care of tasks in your absence, but if it means more lives can be saved, isn't it worth it?

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Want your rescue to get red carpet rock star treatment? Then get out and mingle where it matters!

"For me, having a blogger write about Hope for Paws is something that is worth money I would be more than happy to pay," rescue rock star Eldad Hagar told me at the BlogPaws Conference in May. If you are unfamiliar with Hagar, he is also known as the "stray whisperer" who rescues homeless dogs no one else can reach.

Hagar incited an idea, which is usually the case with great rescue folks. The BlogPaws team listened and put together a "Meet the Rescues" event at its 2013 conference, after all the seminars, meals, and socializing came to a halt for the day. There they were, sitting in a lobby of a hotel in Virginia, eyes glazed over but sharing stories of what they do for animals, how those in attendance could help, and asking pet bloggers and microbloggers to spread their message. Never before was I so inspired as I was that night, surrounded by the a group of people in the "right" trying to fix all the "wrongs" done to animals.

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Listening to how pet bloggers make a difference, rescues benefit from attending the right pet related conferences and expos.

If you are a rescue, get your presence known: Attend conferences and expos that matter and mingle with the right people. It takes effort, time, and money; trust me, I know. The return on investment is immeasurable.

3. Lying about a dog's history

A friend of mine adopted a dog from a shelter in my area. Zyla Cocoa was her given name and her story was something about being a drug bust dog, confiscated in the rescue, well-behaved, housetrained, and microchipped. Four of the five statements about the dog turned out to be false.

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Zola and my Dexter have become buddies for life.

Zola is an amazing dog and my own pooch's best furry friend, but she had some major issues. Of course, my friend worked with the dog and a behavioral specialist who practiced positive reinforcement. What about the people who lie to get a dog a home and the adoptive parent isn't so accommodating? This perpetuates a cycle of return to shelter or worse. 

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Dogster's Lori Malm gets a smooch from my pooch during BlogPaws' Conference in May.

Be honest and be clear a dog's issues, and offer advice on how to manage or correct them. We all want what's best for the dogs, and stretching the truth helps no one. The dog ultimately (and sadly) is the one who suffers.

4. Infighting and working against each other

“I cannot let people think Mary did all the hard work on this transport when I clearly did it.”

“Do you know she sits on her butt all day and doesn’t make as many phone calls to shelters as I do?

The above are actual statements I have been privy to over the last year. Why is there so much infighting and “I can do it alone” mantras in some pet rescue circles? Ultimately, people will not want to donate, and who suffers then? The dogs in need take the brunt of it and may pay with their lives.

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My dog has a heart-to-heart with "stray whisperer," Eldad Hagar, at BlogPaws.

If you are in rescue and ever harbored ill will or shared cross words via a post or email about a fellow rescue comrade, think wisely about why you are doing it. The general public is watching and many of us want to help, so make it easy for us. Crazy turns me off no matter who did what to whom.

5. Thinking your rescue isn't "worth it"

You might recall that my dog took part in the Wigglebutt Wedding this summer, a fundraiser for Life's Little Paws Cocker Spaniel Rescue. Being creative about fundraising is why social media and traditional media stood up and took notice.

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Proud dog moms, Val and Carol pose with the happy "pupple"

Being creative about fundraising is the new norm, and while auctions and raffle ticket sales are fun, I advise rescue groups to think outside the box to get their rescue group noticed. Is it more work? Yes! Is that time you could spend rescuing another dog? Yes. If you aren't being creative and unique in fundraising efforts, another group is. Some of the most creative people I've met are in the rescue world, so use those mad skills.

Like this story? Check out these others:

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Wed, 14 Aug 2013 12:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/five-things-pet-dog-rescue-drive-me-crazy
<![CDATA[What It's Really Been Like Helping Pets Displaced by the Oklahoma Tornadoes]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/dog-cat-pet-rescue-shelter-displaced-pets-oklahoma-tornadoes
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Two years ago, a natural disaster altered my life and that of my dog’s so deeply that I was forced to flee from my home because of the devastating and tragic flood waters of the Susquehanna River. When my friend, June Myers, told me that the recent Oklahoma tornadoes touched down a half mile from her home, I was stunned.

I immediately thought of all the devastation caused by Mother Nature and the poor animals left in the aftermath. Moore, Oklahoma, is no different than any other town affected by horrible weather conditions. Numerous animals wait in makeshift shelters hoping to reunite with their families. Some people lost everything and may have no way to reconnect with their displaced dog or cat.

Until now.

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June Myers doesn't consider herself a hero, but she gives freely of herself to help animals in need in Oklahoma. Here, she snuggles with her blind Cocker Spaniel, Buster.

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A dog dreams of being reunited with his family in Oklahoma.

Myers is a self-admitted dog lover, much like yours truly. She is a fellow Cocker Spaniel lover and dog mom who has volunteered her time at a fairgrounds. She isn't making cotton candy or handing out candy apples -- quite the contrary, in fact. She's volunteering at the Cleveland County Fairgrounds Animal Shelter, which is a makeshift shelter for all the displaced, homeless, abandoned, lost, and injured pets affected by nature's fury in Oklahoma.

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Upon entering the makeshift shelter, this warehouse has been transformed as a temporary shelter for dozens of dogs and cats.

"When I started volunteering, it was like a madhouse here," Myers says. "People were coming in and claiming their dogs like crazy. Now, things have really quieted down, and it's quite sad."

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Hoping, waiting, and wondering if the next person he sees will be his dog mom or dad.

Lost souls are brought to the facility by other shelters, good Samaritans, and disaster recovery groups. Of the more than 200 animals who have been delivered to this location, about 85 remain. Some other pets take refuge at the Animal Resource Center in Oklahoma City, with others at the Oklahoma City Animal Shelter, Moore Animal Shelter, and the Oklahoma State University vet school.

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This is but one wall of photos for folks to examine upon entering the makeshift shelter. They hope to see their dog or cat on the wall.

The devastation isn't covered as much on TV, but those dogs, cats, and other pets still need someone to help. Money solves a lot of problems; it can help feed and keep healthy these pets until (and if) they can be reunited with their loved ones. The Moore Oklahoma Tornado Animal Relief Fund helps these wandering souls and the volunteers who care for them.

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From the outside, it looks like a warehouse. On the inside, this is home to dozens of homeless tornado dogs and cats.

A day in the life of a pet relief worker

Myers checks in at 8 a.m. The pets are fed, watered, and walked by volunteers. While the dogs are outside, indoor volunteers sanitize their kennels with a germicide. Pets are talked to and given plenty of attention. Each volunteer has a specific task they do, and Myers works on the intakes.

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A volunteer takes a morning walk with one of the shelter residents.

She was on vacation the day the tornado hit, so she missed the first week. Volunteers report injured animals came in scared to death, some injured, and others just baffled and confused. All injured pets received immediate medical care, with some transferred to Oklahoma State University Vet School for further attention.

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This hospital was severely ravaged by tornadoes ripping through its core.

As a volunteer, Myers says the pets have adjusted really well. The veterinarians give rabies and Bordatella shots to the incoming dogs and cats as well as microchipping them. Cats also get their feline rhinotracheitis shots.

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Donations of food and supplies have been donated by a variety of companies to help care for the dogs and cats affected by the tornadoes.

From noon to 2:30 p.m., the shelter goes into “quiet time” mode, where all dogs settle in for naps and the volunteers eat lunch.

“This shelter differed from others because it was on a scale 10 times the size,” Myers shares. “Someone is always sweeping or mopping and in the evening, it starts all over again: feeding, watering, walking, cleaning.”

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Blue Heeler Female brought in on May 22, spayed, about 5 years old, waits for her owner.

Of concern are people who want to claim a pet as their own without proof of ownership, which must be demonstrated before any pet is released.

They sit and they wait: the workers as well as the pets in transit. They wait for their loved ones, for the moment they will be reunited, and when they do, it is so worth it.

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This sweetheart still waits for his owner to find him.

One family came in looking for their six Dachshunds, which thankfully are at the shelter. Though they have room for the two older ones where they are renting, they continue to seek housing so all six can be reunited. "To see a dog who spots his owner suddenly light up, crying and wagging, waiting to get close to their guardian and be reunited is the best feeling," Myers says.

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The female heeler was reunited with her dog mom this week, as smiles and tears of joy flowed.

One particular dog, Lacy, was reunited with her family last week. She was being examined in the vet area when her owner made eye contact. "Lacy was so happy to see her. She had given Lacy up for dead until someone told them they saw her pic on one of the websites," Myers shares.

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A volunteer veterinarian examines one of the dogs being housed at the temporary shelter.

Aside from the chores and bonding time with the animals, Myers and many of the volunteers spend their days in a state of hope: Hope that a pet will be reclaimed by his or her family. Some folks have no place to live, others assume their pets died, and some people might have perished in the tornado.

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A volunteer from spends time playing with and petting one of the displaced dogs.

There are a number of families who have claimed their pets but have no place to take them. In these situations, the kennels are marked “Owner Claimed.”

“One family had four dogs in our shelter,” Myers recalls. “Unable to take them all home at first, they let us know they were looking for shelter and returned to claim their babies once housing was found.”

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Lost, with nowhere to go, this volunteer brings a dog to the shelter in Moore, Oklahoma.

What happens now?

The question that runs through my mind is: What happens when the time comes and the fairgrounds must be used for other purposes, and the makeshift shelter closes its doors? What becomes of the dogs and cats who remain?

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Despite her tags and numerous attempts to reach her owners, no calls were returned and the cat was turned over to a rescue group.

In fact, this temporary shelter will close and the spaying and neutering of remaining pets will take place. Any animals who remain will be put up for adoption at a big event planned for June 23. Thankfully, unadopted pets will go to a rescue or shelter, dubbed "tornado pets," where they will not be euthanized. Whew.

But those lost souls still need homes.

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Mother Nature's fury destroyed this gas station in Moore, Oklahoma.

How to help

The Moore Animal Shelter needs donations; you can help at the Red Rover site set up by the city of Moore. In the meantime, Dogster readers are encouraged to visit Oklahoma Lost PetsLost Pets of of Moore Oklahoma, and the Animal Resource Center.

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Baxter was recently reunited with his dad.

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Kimberly Freeman, from New York City, a dog trainer in working with two Chihuahuas. The little male was scared and the little female was not; she was spending her time with the little male.

Why Myers does it

"First of all, I love animals," Myers says. "Secondly I am a volunteer at the Moore Animal Shelter, and our group is Moore Pawsabilities."

Yes, she is emotionally drained, as the photos here represent, but Myers and the other volunteers know they are needed. "I am only doing a very small part; there are so many, many more great people and organizations that that have pitched in and are helping with this effort," she says.

She reflects on Baxter and the way the little dog jumped up and down in his kennel when his eyes locked on his very grateful owner at the makeshift shelter. Tornadoes cannot eliminate the bond between dog and family. I don't know about you, but I'm off to hug my dog a little bit closer right now.

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Local children draw pictures to brighten the atmosphere at the makeshift shelter in Oklahoma.

Has Mother Nature has ever wreaked havoc in your life and affected your pets? Let me know in the comments.

Read more on the tornadoes: 

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Wed, 19 Jun 2013 02:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/dog-cat-pet-rescue-shelter-displaced-pets-oklahoma-tornadoes
<![CDATA[In New Mexico, Female Prison Inmates Help Train and Socialize Shelter Dogs]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/heeling-hearts-female-prison-inmates-shelter-dogs-photos
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Every Monday, Albuquerque art therapist, silk textile weaver, and dog-lover Susan Neal drives 68 miles west to Grants, a small city that’s home to the New Mexico Women's Correctional Facility. It’s a trek she’s been making since 2007, when she helped launch an innovative program called Heeling Hearts

While the number of dogs in U.S. shelters is hard to pin down -- the ASPCA lumps dogs and cats together in estimating 5 million to 7 million animals land in shelters each year -- another stat is easier to pinpoint: the number of people in U.S. prisons. It’s about 2 million -- the largest prison population of any country in the world. And increasingly, prisons and shelters have found a way to work together through programs that benefit residents at both: turning stray and often neglected pups at risk for euthanization into well-trained pets ready to be adopted into new homes.

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Choosing suitable canine candidates for the program at the local shelter.

Heeling Hearts is one of hundreds of similar programs nationwide designed to help incarcerated people learn new life skills while saving the lives of thousands of dogs. More than 300 dogs have been adopted through Heeling Hearts alone. (And yes, each and every one of them is as immediately lovable as the little beasties below.) 

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Chico the Chihuahua is a Heeling Hearts pup.

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Talulah and her puppy, Tango.

Until recently, Neal was paid to work with Heeling Hearts through a family services nonprofit in Albuquerque and spent hours counseling program participants each week. Budget cuts and a lack of incoming grant money means she is now limited to volunteering one day a week to provide group support to the 20 participants currently enrolled. Two other weekly volunteers, including a professional dog trainer who has been on board from the very start, round out the lean but passionate team. The Corrections Corporation of America gives $300 a month for dog food, and Heeling Hearts relies on cash and in-kind donations like generous vet care including spaying, neutering, and vaccinating so it can continue to operate. It’s tough going at the moment, says Neal, but she’s committed to seeing the program endures. 

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The first group of Heeling Hearts graduates. (Inmates' faces are obscured for privacy reasons.)

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Puppies in prison -- in prison!

Women at the Correctional Facility who wish to be dog handlers need to have a record of clean conduct for six months, and once in the program they must adhere to all prison regulations during the duration of their participation. The dogs live with them until they’re fully trained and adopted –- sometimes this happens within six weeks, while other dogs have called the prison home for as long as a year. Half the dogs in Heeling Hearts live in dormitory style rooms while the other half live with their trainers in individual cells.

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Some of the dogs live in dorm-style rooms.

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The dog training program helps lift the women's self-esteem -- and provides love to the shelter dogs.

“The program just works so well,” says Neal. “It helps women raise their self-esteem, and offers them an opportunity to give back. All of the dog handlers work as a group. They learn to manage conflict and to nurture and care for a life, and they’re on duty 24-7 so they gain a real sense of accountability and responsibility. And they know they can’t break any rules if they want to stay in the program.” 

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Otis and his handler enjoy the sunshine.

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Kudos also left Heeling Hearts for a happy forever home.

And, of course, the dogs provide the same kind of companionship to their handlers that dogs everywhere provide to millions of people -– a sense of unconditional love and acceptance. It’s one that isn’t often found behind the locked doors of the prison system. The dogs’ presence impacts not just Heeling Hearts’ participants, says Neal, but all of the prison's 550 or so residents. This video shows some of the women training the dogs:

“When we brought the dogs into the prison the very first time six years ago, the whole environment changed -- it immediately became warmer. The inmates who aren’t training the dogs are very interested in them, very fond of them,” she recalls. “The women aren’t allowed to have physical contact with one another, but they can hug a dog!”

Neal says she’s aware that some participants have leveraged the skills they’ve learned in Heeling Hearts into the working world following their release –- one became a dog groomer while another took a job at PetSmart. She points out that the recidivism rate is lower for women who have been involved in dog training programs than for the general population. 

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Bath time for the dogs can get a little boisterous.

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One of the inmates gives two motherless puppies some TLC.

As for the canines, programs like Heeling Hearts give them another chance -– perhaps their only one. “All of the dogs come from a local animal shelter in Grants, whch tries hard not to euthanize any animals,” says Neal. “A lot of them were living on reservations. With the economy being bad, a lot of families just can’t afford to keep their dogs.”

It’s a problem pet owners nationwide continue to face, and finding homes for dogs completing prison-training programs isn’t always easy. In the case of Heeling Hearts, prospective owners –- most of whom live a good hour or two away from the prison -– must come to Grants to meet the dogs. They learn about the program through the volunteers’ outreach efforts; Heeling Hearts’ website, where available dogs are featured; and Petfinder, where a local SPCA assists by posting profiles. While the inmates aren’t permitted to take part in these visits, each dog shows up with a heartfelt letter from his or her handler detailing various aspects of training and personality. And most of the people who adopt do so because they believe in the program’s dual mission of dogs and incarcerated women helping one another.

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Heeling Hearts graduate dogs leave the prison, bound for their new forever homes.

“I just got a sweet, sweet video from a family who adopted a dog three weeks ago,” says Neal. “The two little kids are saying, in unison, 'thank you, Heeling Hearts, for little Misty!' I played it several times -- it’s just the nicest thing.” 

To learn more about prison dog-training programs across North America, check out Prison Dogs, the blog of Sister Pauline Quinn, who started the first prison dog program at the Washington State Correctional Center for Women in 1981. 

Want to help Heeling Hearts thrive? You can make a donation here. You can browse the adorable dogs awaiting new families here.

Read more about dogs in prison:

Do you know of a rescue hero — dog, human, or group — we should profile on Dogster? Write us at dogsterheroes@dogster.com.

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Mon, 13 May 2013 02:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/heeling-hearts-female-prison-inmates-shelter-dogs-photos
<![CDATA[Miles & Mutts Tires Shelter Dogs Out So They Don't Get Passed Over for Adoption]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/miles-and-mutts-shelter Imagine living alone in a tiny, unfurnished studio apartment surrounded by loud neighbors. And you can only leave a few times each day for a bathroom break. If someone came by to meet you in this setting, would you be on your best behavior?

Such is the life of many shelter dogs, and the reason high-energy breeds often get passed over for adoption.

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Enter Miles & Mutts. This group of dedicated volunteers runs dogs from the Better Days Animal League in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, every Sunday whenever weather allows. The rescues return tired and better ready to face the week ahead.

"The difference we see in the dogs is remarkable," says Abbi Crowe, founder of Miles & Mutts. "They're whining and carrying on during the ride to the trail and totally calm on the way back. Even though we only do it once a week, getting out of the shelter environment helps with their mental well-being and socialization. Being out and around people, getting real-life experiences they don't get in their kennel, it definitely makes them calmer when meeting potential adopters."

Pack leader

Crowe has volunteered at animal shelters since childhood and has three rescue dogs -- black Lab-mix Jackson, Beagle Kasey, and chocolate-Lab-mix Hannah -- with her husband, Kevin. When she took up running a few years back, she began thinking about how to combine the two passions. It was during the Better Days Animal League Peace 4 Paws benefit run in fall of 2011 that Crowe learned the organization had actual physical shelters, as opposed to using foster homes and boarding facilities. She successfully pitched to Better Days the idea of a running group for its dogs.

The first run happened on April 14, 2012, with just Crowe and a young Treeing Walker Coonhound named Xena. The pair covered five miles of the Cumberland Valley Rail Trail that day.

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Abbi and Xena get ready to take their first run together. Since that day, Xena has logged 245 miles with the group. She remains available for a high-energy family that can give her the exercise her breed needs.

"Xena and I headed over to the trail for a run this morning," Crowe wrote on the Miles & Mutts website later. "The first mile was a little clumsy, but she got the hang of what we were there for very quickly. I’m pretty sure there was a huge smile on my face the entire time as well."

The time was flying by, and pretty soon we’d already run two and a half miles," she continued. "I wanted to take it easy with her since it was her first run, so we turned around at this point. Not bad for a sweet dog who has spent most of her life in a kennel. Of course, a temporary home at Better Days Animal League is certainly better than her original fate from the breeder/owner who was going to drown her and her sister when he could not get rid of them as puppies. Five miles complete."

Crowe regularly documents the Miles & Mutts runs, showing off the many adoptable dogs in the running pack and recommending them as the best of running partners because they never stand you up and are always eager to see what's beyond the bend. Just try to keep a dry eye while watching the group's moving year-end video.

Since that first outing with Xena, the group has grown to 32 volunteers, who have run 36 dogs from the shelter a total of 1,096 miles. Thirteen of those dogs have found forever homes, thanks in part to the exercise and interaction the regular outings provide.

The running pack

Crowe coordinates which dogs get to run each week, and she and her husband transport them from the shelter to the trail in the van they bought and outfitted for the task. Volunteers meet at the trail, a crushed limestone path that travels through woods and farmland.

When deciding which dogs to include, she considers several factors. "We mostly take the ones with high energy, the ones who are going a little kennel crazy," she explains. "But we also have to consider how they are with people and other dogs. There are some we would love to take but can't because they are too dog-aggressive." Hound and Pit Bull mixes make up most of the running pack.

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Xena's sister, Athena, gets a little love from her running partner, Tim O'Dowd. She has logged 203 miles to date and also remains available for adoption.

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Mystic, still available for adoption, cools down after a run. She has put in 53 miles so far with the group.

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Crowe says Zeus, still available for adoption, has become a running pro with excellent behavior on leash and around both people and dogs. He has logged 85 miles so far.

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Trinket ran 46 miles with the group before going to her forever home.

Crowe matches runners according to ability and never allows the dogs to get pushed passed their limit. The dogs have been known to push the humans, though.

"In some cases, the dog keeps the person wanting to go father than in the past," Crowe says, pointing to Xena and Athena as two such dogs. "Several people came in running a little bit -- three miles a couple times a week -- but now they want to run with the hounds and go 10 miles."

Bonds also develop between the humans and dogs, with volunteers requesting certain running partners. One such attachment actually turned into an adoption, when Ian and Willow Weir made Allie a permanent part of their running group and family.

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Allie put in just 17 miles before finding her forever home through Miles & Mutts.

The future of Miles & Mutts

Crowe hopes to double the number of volunteers, dogs, and miles this year. She also wants to start pulling dogs from the second Better Days shelter and add a weeknight run for those who have other obligations on Sundays. All of this will help with the ultimate goal of the group: finding forever homes for these awesome but often overlooked animals.

If you live in the Shippensburg area and want to join Miles & Mutts, visit the group's website. You'll also find a list Crowe compiled of other running groups for shelter dogs throughout the country. To get more information on the many adoptable pets available through Better Days, visit the shelter's Petfinder page.

Meet more Dogster Heroes:

Do you know of a rescue hero — dog, human, or group — we should profile on Dogster? Write us at dogsterheroes@dogster.com. 

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Thu, 18 Apr 2013 06:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/miles-and-mutts-shelter
<![CDATA[A Three-Legged Dog from Iran Makes It to California for a New Home -- And a Set of Wheels]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/three-legged-dog-iran-new-home-wheels-muttville
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Editor's note: Marie is the director of marketing, design, and social media for Muttville Senior Dog Rescue in San Francisco.

The amazing story of a dog named Shadi started three years ago in Iran, in a town called Kordaan, in the cold winter. Volunteers from animal rescue group Vafa Animal Shelter found a dog living outside. She had one short, malformed back leg, and another that was little more than a bone. She had a litter of puppies that she was nursing in the snow.

The volunteers brought her to the shelter, where the puppies were weaned and soon found adopters. But the mom, named Shadi, wasn’t so lucky. One kind woman was eager to adopt Shadi, but unfortunately, she took ill. There was no one else.

But Shadi was full of joy. She showered people with kisses, wiggling with joy when they showed her affection. The Vafa team knew she was too good to let languish and die.

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Photo courtesy of Muttville.

San Jose resident and Vafa supporter Farah Ravon started an incredible chain of events, activating a worldwide network of people to help. Farah knew Shadi would have better luck in the United States. She found sponsors who paid for travel expenses, and Shadi went to a rescue group in Maryland. 

But after several months, Shadi was still waiting for a home. Farah thought of Muttville and contacted Patty Stanton, a Muttville board member and volunteer. When Patty told Muttville founder and executive director Sherri Franklin about Shadi, Sherri was sure Muttville could help.  

Shadi arrived in California, and Sherri enlisted the help of Shelah Barr of Happy Hounds Massage, who assessed Shadi’s situation and decided that what she needed was wheels.

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Photo courtesy of Vafa Animal Shelter's Facebook page.

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Photo courtesy of Vafa Animal Shelter's Facebook page.

Shelah contacted the staff members at Eddie’s Wheels, who have made mobility carts for some other of her clients.

“They worked very closely with us in getting the proper measurements,” says Shelah, “and have even reworked the cart to make it even more comfortable for her to use.”

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Shadi with her new cart from Eddie's Wheels.

Shelah also told Jaye Shissel about Shadi, and Jaye donated the funds for Shadi’s wheels.

“Shadi means ‘happy,’ I’m told,” says Jaye, “and that is our girl: a lovely, brave lady, come halfway across the world to teach us two-leggeds how it’s done.”

Shadi then got some Muttville foster parents, Charlotte and George, who cared for Shadi for two months.

“My husband and I had been thinking of fostering for Muttville after one of our dogs died,” says Charlotte. “As luck would have it, Shadi arrived at Muttville the very day we were ready. She needed a foster home pronto that had easy access to a yard, a patch of grass, and not many stairs. We had all that and more.”

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Photo courtesy of Vafa Animal Shelter's Facebook page.

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Shadi makes friends at a Muttville adoption event.

“Shadi was easygoing and a joy to have around. She had a real appreciation of every little thing that we did for her and thanked us profusely with her frequent tail wags. Shadi had a big impact on us. We feel that she gave us a lot more than we gave her.”

And then along came Liz.

“When I saw Shadi’s face I fell in love,” she says. And so Liz became Shadi’s forever mom.

“Shadi is well behaved, mellowed out, beautiful, and capable,” says Liz. “The more I get to know her, the more her world-class personality comes out. I see that there is something special about her that made an international team of caring individuals fly her halfway around the world. I feel so lucky to get this special dog.”

Read more about Muttville and dogs on wheels:

Do you know of a rescue hero — dog, human, or group — we should profile on Dogster? Write us at dogsterheroes@dogster.com. 

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Fri, 22 Mar 2013 12:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/three-legged-dog-iran-new-home-wheels-muttville
<![CDATA[I Refuse to Give Up on Oakley, the Puppy Born with No Anus, Even if the Vets Have]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/save-oakley-the-puppy-born-with-no-anus When our Friends of Emma volunteers picked up Oakley in mid-December, on the day of -- and just miles from -- the devastating Sandy Hook shootings, I was certain that this tiny 17-day-old pink-pawed, freckle-nosed Labrador mix was the only good thing to come out of Connecticut that week. Now, nearly four months, 1,700 miles, and thousands of touched hearts later, Oakley continues to fight a seemingly hopeless prognosis.

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Baby Oakley in a onesie. Photo courtesy Friends of Emma the Cleft-Palate Chihuahua Facebook page

People are always asking me what exactly is going on with Oakley. She's so mixed up inside that it's difficult to explain -- I'm not sure I even understand the combined aspects myself. 

She was born with no anus, so her colon expels waste through an open hole in her abdomen. She also has no bladder; her urinary tract somehow runs along the same "central line" and expels from the same opening, in a type of cloaca like that of amphibians, birds, and reptiles. She also has megacolon.

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Oakley has no anus, so she expels waste through a hole in her belly. Photo courtesy Friends of Emma the Cleft-Palate Chihuahua Facebook page

Oakley has myriad uncertain anomalies, so we knew her struggle would be hard -- but she’s doing so well. She's growing and thriving, reaching all of her puppy milestones, and enjoying life among our little crew of rescue pups here at Friends of Emma. Our hopes for a surgical resolve and full recovery for Oakley have grown with her.

Our goal with Oakley for her first few months was to get her to a weight approved by her surgeon before she could undergo further diagnostic testing to gain a better knowledge of what’s going on inside. 

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Oakley snuggles with Emma, the Cleft Palate Chihuahua who started it all. Photo courtesy Friends of Emma the Cleft-Palate Chihuahua Facebook page

That day finally came last week -- and the results were devastating. “There is absolutely nothing that we can do for this little dog,” the surgeon told me. My heart sank. But I refuse to accept it.

In the time I've had her, she has gone from weighing one pound at 2.5 weeks to 16 pounds at 16 weeks, and she continues to thrive, despite her afflictions. Oakley's condition is not new to her. It's not something that is evolving or has recently come about. She was born this way, and she is living this way.

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What's up, monkey butt? Photo courtesy Friends of Emma the Cleft-Palate Chihuahua Facebook page

We are not "keeping Oakley alive," as some have suggested; we're helping her to live better.

She is not wallowing in pain, and she is not experiencing "extraordinary suffering." Yes, she has some tender spots and the occasional bellyache. Yes, I have to constantly intervene to keep infection at bay, but we address and resolve each of these issues immediately.

The vets we've talked to have never seen Oakley’s precise combined conditions before, and because they don't know exactly what they're dealing with, they don't give her any kind of positive outlook. They can't even tell me for certain whether she is female or male, because she has some hermaphrodite issues going on as well.

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Little Oakley is growing up and meeting all her puppy milestones. Photo courtesy Friends of Emma the Cleft-Palate Chihuahua Facebook page

Oakley really is a mess inside, but she is growing, thriving, and nearly as content as any other pup. I just can't fathom that there is no help for her.

I know that our current methods of caring for Oakley won't sustain her forever. She needs surgical intervention if she is to survive long-term. Eventually she will develop "superbugs," and the constant rounds of antibiotics will no longer fight off her recurring infections. Eventually, her megacolon will become unmanageable, especially since it cannot be relieved with enema treatment, because she has no anus. There are just so many "eventually" scenarios -- but the NOW is what we're dealing with at this point, until help can be found.

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Oakley loves her mama, Kylie. Photo courtesy Friends of Emma the Cleft-Palate Chihuahua Facebook page

I cannot deny that I have serious concerns regarding Oakley's future, and I certainly don't claim that she is living the doggie dream. At least for now, though, she is playful, spirited, and alert -- and I won't steal her life away without a good hard fight!

I realize that the complexity of Oakley's combined conditions is something that has never before been documented in veterinary medicine -- but simply because of that, there is no way to predict the outcome if something were to be done to help her. 

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At playtime, Oakley is just like every other happy puppy. Photo courtesy Friends of Emma the Cleft-Palate Chihuahua Facebook page

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We're not ready to give up on this pup. Photo courtesy Friends of Emma the Cleft-Palate Chihuahua Facebook page

Surely there is a medical professional out there who encompasses the knowledge, skill, and passion to save Oakley. But we need your help, because we can't do it on our own. Can you help us help Oakley? Please share her story wherever you can. 

The outpouring of love and support from our online community has kept us going, not just with Oakley, but with all of our rescues. We couldn't get through a day without you. Time and time again, steady friends and complete strangers have been there for us.

Here's a video we made of Oakley's progress:

We are blessed to be at the core of such an exceptional and powerful support system. We love and genuinely appreciate our Dogster family and each and every one of you joining us in support. Visit our Facebook page and share Oakley's photos and story. Let's do what we can to give Oakley a shot at a long, fulfilling life!

Read more about the special puppies Elizabeth and her group are helping: 

Do you know of a rescue hero — dog, human, or group — we should profile on Dogster? Write us at dogsterheroes@dogster.com. 

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Thu, 21 Mar 2013 05:30:00 -0700 /lifestyle/save-oakley-the-puppy-born-with-no-anus
<![CDATA[Anatomy of a Rescue: It Took a Small Army to Save My One-Eyed Pekingese]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/dog-adoption-rescue-pekingese
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Six months ago, I shared my story about failing as a foster and adopting Beasley, my one-eyed senior Pekingese. I received a lot of great comments, here on Dogster and on other social networks. Two commenters who read the article linked from Muttville Senior Dog Rescue's Facebook page had their own stories to tell of Beasley’s rescue.

Beasley was “owner surrendered” at the West Los Angeles Animal Shelter last year. A woman named Mirja Bishop had just arrived at the shelter -- where she had been volunteering two days a week for more than five years -- when one of the technicians handed her a leash and asked her to take Beasley to the small dog cage that was to be her new home.

The first response on my foster failure post was from her:

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“I walked through the shelter, led by this little warrior who walked with such authority that you would think she had just come in first place at the Westminster Dog Show," Mirja would later tell me. "I fell in love with Beasley and started networking her right away. I did not want her to stay at the shelter any longer than absolutely necessary.”

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Dogster's own Pekingese, Beasley, wins Best of Show at Dogster HQ.

When Mirja got home she posted about Beasley on Facebook and on PetConnect.Us, a central valley California rescue dedicated to helping find homes for urgent shelter animals.

“My biggest role, as I see it, at the shelter is writing about the dogs," she says. "I research what is known about a dog, put their stories together, and network the dogs on Facebook and directly with rescue organizations. I am always on the look out at the shelter for older dogs, disabled dogs, or those who have been at the shelter for a long time."

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Mirja’s post on Facebook, with Beasley’s intake photo

Mirja’s post rapidly made its way through the social “rescue railroad” and was shared by hundreds of people and rescue organizations, all working to get Beasley out of the shelter. People pledged donations in the hundreds of dollars to fund Beasley’s rescue efforts, while many others offered encouraging words of support and prayers for Beasley.

One of those people was Mari Miyatake, who spends much of her spare time coordinating rescue efforts in the Los Angeles area. She has helped more than 50 dogs out of the shelter and into forever homes over the last ten years.

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“I remember seeing Beasley's picture on Facebook and I fell in love with her face," Mari says. "She had that permanent blink that said to me, 'I'm cute as a button, but I'm old and no one wants me 'cause I'm broken.' I started contacting senior rescue organizations, begging them to take Beasley. I offered up a big donation to entice the rescues, which is what I usually do if I can't take the dog myself.”

Six days after Beasley was dropped off at the shelter, Mari received a response from Sherri Franklin, founder of Muttville Senior Dog Rescue in San Francisco, offering to take Beasley. “I loved Beasley’s face, with her one eye," Sherri says. "She was red-listed [in danger of being euthanized] and needed to get out of the shelter. I just knew that Muttville could find her a home.”

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Beasley, with Muttville Founder Sherri Franklin

Over several days, rescuers scrambled to coordinate Beasley’s transportation from Los Angeles to San Francisco. One woman, who had an upcoming business trip to San Francisco, posted, “I’ll carry her in my arms if I have to!” In the meantime, Beasley remained at WLA. The shelter staff knew she was being networked and worked closely with volunteers to keep her safe.

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Beasley (ID#A1316672) in the yard at West Los Angeles Animal Shelter.

On June 19, Mari confirmed Beasley's transportation to San Francisco. She, along with many others in the rescue community, works with Pilots N Paws and Wings of Recue, as well as a network of private pilots who volunteer their time (and planes) to transport rescues. One of those, a U.S. Navy pilot who has requested to remain anonymous, offered to give Beasley a lift.

Beasley’s flight was all set, but there was still much to be done. In Beasley’s rescue thread on PetConnect.Us' Facebook page, commenters were busy making arrangements to pull Beasley from the shelter and secure temporary housing for her in Los Angeles.

A few days later their efforts were rewarded and Beasley pranced out of the shelter.

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Beasley's "freedom photo" with Mirja Bishop.

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Beasley's "freedom photo" with Mari Miyatake.

Paige Hopkins, an animal rights activist who has six dogs and three cats but still manages to make room for those who need temporary shelter, fostered Beasley in Los Angeles the night before her flight to San Francisco.

“Beasley's stay with us was brief but memorable," she wrote. "The minute she waddled into my home, she was queen! She never sped up her waddle -- just sauntered through the house and yard sniffing and checking things out. She found the bed that suited her, the bowl she wanted, and that was it.”

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This is better than hanging your head out of the car window! Photo by Queen Snoop Kim Essig

The following day Beasley landed safely in San Francisco, where she was picked up and whisked away to Muttville.

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Beasley’s official "Gotcha" Day, the day celebrated to recognize the day I adopted her, was listed as August 26 on her Pet Page on Dogster, but I changed it to June 10, because that is the day she was “adopted” by the wonderful community of dog lovers and rescuers who helped her find the way to her forever home. A heartfelt thanks to ALL of you from Beasley and me!

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Beasley and I

Do you participate in a "rescue railroad" or use social networking to support your rescue efforts? Tell us about it in the comments!

Read Lori's first story on Beasley:  I Fostered a One-Eyed Pekingese -- and Couldn't Give Her Up!

and more about senior rescue: Dogster HQ Celebrates National Mutt Day with a Visit to Muttville!

Do you know of a rescue hero — dog, human, or group — we should profile on Dogster? Write us at dogsterheroes@dogster.com. 

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Wed, 13 Mar 2013 02:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/dog-adoption-rescue-pekingese
<![CDATA[Penn Vet Working Dog Center: Where Detection Dogs Train]]> http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/penn-vet-working-dog-center-detection-dogs-training
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Socks isn’t like other dogs. That much was clear soon after she came to the Penn Vet Working Dog Center.

Donated by a small breeder from western Pennsylvania, Socks was a roly-poly yellow Lab who, today, at 6 months old, isn’t so roly-poly anymore. In a lot of ways, she’s like all her peers: She climbs, tugs, sits, eats, and sleeps for some nine hours a day. When her foster father wakes up in the morning, Socks licks him with gusto.

But when Socks sniffs through the empty warehouse that serves as her training ground and finds her leather tug toy, that’s when she shows just how different she is. She doesn’t leap, or bark, or cause the ruckus you’d expect from a puppy who has found the object of her desire. Instead, she sits still. She’s quiet. It’s the kind of behavior that trainers work so hard to cultivate, says Dr. Cynthia Otto, the center’s director, and it’s a habit that Socks performs unprompted.

“She’s got it written all over her face: 'I’m gonna be a bomb dog,'” Otto says.

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Socks is in training to become a bomb detection dog.

If all goes as expected, Socks will join the University of Pennsylvania Police Department as a bomb detection dog once she finishes her training. Her six peers, who make up the remainder of the inaugural class of puppies training at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, will join police departments, search-and-rescue teams, and other agencies. The Philadelphia center, a part of the university’s School of Veterinary Medicine, is a research and training center that prepares these special dogs for the future, even if their futures aren’t clear at the moment.

In part, that’s because the scope of what detection dogs can do has grown beyond sniffing for drugs or finding missing people -- and it continues to grow.

“It seems like every week I come across another article about a dog being used to detect something new, whether it’s bedbugs, sewage contamination, endangered plants, cancer, or diabetic crises,” Otto says.

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Part of Socks' training regime at the Working Dog Center.

Detection dogs are in high demand, but they are also scarcer than ever. Most professional working dogs, including many dogs used in the United States’ military and police departments, are from Eastern Europe, a region with a long tradition of breeding and training the animals. But this relatively small region supplies working dogs to countries all over the world. “What’s happening is there’s more pressure for them to produce these dogs, and the quality of the dogs, at least from what I’ve heard anecdotally, seems to be decreasing,” says Otto.

One of the purposes of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center is to have a stateside center to prepare dogs for the modern era, but detection dogs first piqued Otto’s curiosity in 1994. That’s when Otto, a working veterinarian and associate professor of critical care at the School of Veterinary Medicine, began working with the detection dogs used by the Pennsylvania Urban Search and Rescue Task Force.

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Socks practises finding a "bomb" in collapsed "rubble" at the training center.

“Just watching them train -- watching a dog climb a ladder, go across an elevated plank that’s six to 10 feet off the ground, crawl through a tunnel in the dark, underneath all this collapsed concrete, and find a person that’s hidden, you just go, ‘Wow, these are really amazing animals,’" she says. "They’re so valuable to everyone. Not just the owners and the people that directly and immediately experience the impact of the value of the dog. They have an impact on our national security, on our safety -- on life.”

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Bretagne, a member of the center's inaugural class donated by Shorewood Retrievers, meets her namesake: Bretagne Corliss, one of the detection dogs deployed in the aftermath of 9/11. Photo courtesy of Penn Vet's Flickr photostream.

After treating the dogs who scoured the rubble of Ground Zero and starting a long-term study of the health of 9/11 detection dogs, Otto turned her interests toward the Penn Vet Working Dog Center in 2007. On Sept. 11, 2012, the center opened its brick-and-mortar headquarters and welcomed its inaugural class of five Labs, a Dutch Shepherd, and a Golden Retriever, all donated by domestic breeders. The group grows larger by the month -- the center has added two more Labs, two German Shepherds, and a Springer Spaniel in the months since. And their names aren’t accidental: Socks, Bretagne, Sirius, and all the rest are named after dogs deployed in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

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Bobbie Snyder of New Jersey Task Force One and her dog, Spirit, go through the paces. Photo courtesy of Penn Vet's Flickr photostream.

The five-day-a-week program is built on a core of obedience, agility, fitness, and search behavior, and the training sessions are all videotaped and analyzed. The cornerstone of the curriculum is adapting a dog’s natural predilections for play into useful search behaviors. For example, a new puppy might play tug with one of its handlers, but soon enough they’ll have to follow a handler’s commands to retrieve the toy before playing. Later on, they’ll search for the hidden toy outside or in an empty office building, then find more than one toy in different environments.

The training continues during lunchtime: Speakers emanate sounds of gunshots and sirens to condition the dogs to the harsh aural environments they’ll encounter in the working world. At night and on the weekends, the puppies go home with foster families.

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Kaiser Zintsmaster, a detection dog from Indiana Task Force One and the namesake of Center trainee Kaiserin, also served in the days after 9/11. Photo courtesy of Penn Vet's Flickr photostream.

Once the dogs finish the program (in a year, maybe a little more -- the length of the training hasn’t been clearly defined yet), they’ll enter the working world. Some of the dogs might work until they’re 11 years old. Others, like police and military dogs who work in more strenuous environments, might retire much earlier.

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Dogs and handlers reunite 11 years after deploying to Ground Zero. From left: Chris Selfridge, Bobbie Snyder and Spirit, Dr. Cynthia Otto, Rose DeLuca and Ben, Dave Lee, John Gilkey and Jester. Photo courtesy of Penn Vet's Flickr photostream.

One of the long-term projects is to analyze genetic data to understand more about the ailments that cut dogs’ careers short. “We want this foundation to enhance the quality as well as the quantity of working life, where the emphasis on fitness and conditioning and positive training, that it’s all about fun, is going to help these dogs continue to want to work all their lives,” Otto says. 

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Jennifer Rench from Merck Animal Health; Bretagne Corliss with her handler, Denise Corliss from Texas Task Force 1; Bretagne with her foster dad, Seth Goldman. Photo courtesy of Penn Vet's Flickr photostream.

Not every dog reveals his ideal vocation as easily as Socks. Take Morgan, another six-month-old yellow Lab and one of the biggest dogs in the program, weighing in at more than 64 pounds. “He’s what I like to call our bull in a china shop,” Otto says. Once, the team hid the tug toy inside a radiator that ran along the wall of one of the search facilities. Morgan found it expertly, but instead of sitting -- calmly and quietly, the way Socks might -- he did something else: He ripped the radiator apart to pry the toy from the inside.

In time, his handlers will figure out what Morgan is best suited to do, but odds are he won’t be sniffing for bombs. And that’s okay, Otto says. “That’s the really fun thing about our program -- we’re not relegating the dogs to a task. We’re giving them a foundation, so we can figure out what they’ll do best.”

Do you know of a rescue hero — dog, human, or group — we should profile on Dogster? Write us at dogsterheroes@dogster.com. 

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Tue, 29 Jan 2013 12:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/penn-vet-working-dog-center-detection-dogs-training